World Environment Day 2011: Making Global Rally Days Count Yearlong

by | Jun 2, 2011

World Environment Day (WED) has been celebrated on June 5th each year since 1972. This United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) sponsored effort is a global campaign that generates thousands of sustainability-focused projects and draws attention to vital environmental issues. Supermodel Gisele Bündchen and actor Don Cheadle, UNEP Goodwill Ambassadors, are in a “face-off” this year to raise awareness about the world’s forests. They’ll plant a tree or two for every project that’s registered on the WED website.

Skeptics of global awareness campaigns will wonder – does WED really have lasting impact?  After all, once the face-offs and tree plantings are over, good intentions can fade quickly. At Anheuser-Busch InBev we’ve learned that the way we mark WED throughout our global operations has become an important element in our ability to keep up the momentum and to deliver on tough environmental targets as part of our company’s dream to be the Best Beer Company in a Better World. This will be the third time our 114,000 colleagues across the world will get involved. Over the years, we’ve learned the powerful role that this day can play within the mix of sustainability approaches we follow every day.

Tie Back to Your Business’s Environmental Priority Area

In our case, sustainable water use is crucial to our business success. The industry’s draw on water supplies means we take on an increased share of the responsibility for reducing water use, and that we also stand to gain – in the form of reduced costs and increased profits – from initiatives that reduce water use. A significant added benefit is that using less water also means using less of the energy needed to heat and pump that water, translating into reduced carbon emissions. So while the theme of WED changes each year, we encourage employees to find ways to tie the global theme to our primary environmental focus area – water use reduction.

Align Efforts Through Clear Target-Setting

To encourage employee-driven innovation at scale requires defining clear objectives, aligning incentives and creating a culture that shares challenges as well as successes. WED is a day on the calendar, but the way we mark it is closely aligned to our specific sustainability targets – as well as to AB InBev’s broader culture of employee ownership over company performance, from financials to corporate reputation to environmental performance.

  • Set aggressive shared global targets. Communicating clear company-wide objectives focuses employees’ collective effort on achieving a concrete goal. This starts at the top, with vision and commitment from the executive leadership. We have set a global goal of reaching 3.5 hectoliters of water per hectoliter of production (hl/hl) by the end of 2012.
  • Determine plant-level targets. Determining the resource reduction targets required at each brewery or facility – taking into consideration that local circumstances may be very different – provides on-the-ground guidance and a way to spot enterprise-wide solutions.
  • Hold all levels accountable. Integrating plant-level goals into individual employees’ performance targets provides additional incentive to collaborate and innovate in ways both big and small. In our case, all levels of employees, from senior leadership down, share in these targets, just as all levels take on individual responsibility for helping the company achieve our financial goals.

Small Changes Add Up

While it can be tempting to look for a single big innovation to dramatically reduce resource usage, the necessary investment of human and financial resources can be prohibitive, and keeping operations at status quo while waiting for a big breakthrough can stall resource reduction use efforts for years. It’s been proven time and again that marshaling small changes at the brewery level can prove equally effective. Taken together, these low-tech fixes can have an impressive cumulative effect on resource reduction, even at large, global company.

WED kicks off our annual global competition to identify and reward best practices in sustainability. Our jury committee, which will include a representative from UNEP this year, awards winners from each geographic zone and one global grand prize for initiatives that are particularly noteworthy. In the past, the competition has recognized projects including our 2009 global winner, Hoegaarden’s “Energy and Water Saving Program,” an equipment start/stop procedure inspired by an employee to fight wasteful resource use by shutting down all water- and energy-consuming equipment during periods of no production. The program has been rolled out in all our breweries in Western Europe, saving enough energy each year to power 200 homes for a year and enough water each year to fill eight Olympic-sized swimming pools. Last year, our St. Louis brewery won the global prize with its coordinated program of water-saving initiatives inside the brewery walls and in the community, which together saved 284 million gallons (over 1 billion liters) of water, enough fuel to supply 1,250 U.S. homes for a year and enough electricity to power 950 U.S. homes. The winners of our annual competition get bragging rights for the year, and their ideas become intrinsic to the way we do business.

Agile best practice-sharing across the company helps accelerate progress but also helps some facilities get back on track. Once stumbling blocks are identified, managers or employees can reach out to colleagues in breweries or facilities that have faced similar challenges to collaborate on a solution. Regular best practice-sharing sessions – at AB InBev, we hold annual global supply conferences – will establish contacts across the company that can be leveraged as needed. Our Ningbo plant in China, for instance, which operates in an especially water-stressed region, has borrowed some of the cost-effective, low-tech fixes that helped our brewery in Cartersville, Ga., reduce water use during an historic drought several years ago. These processes, including narrowing the diameter of bottle-washing nozzles to reduce the amount of water used in cleaning processes without any effect on product or packaging quality, have collectively made a big impact. Ningbo has drastically improved water efficiency and is now on track to reach our 3.5 hl/hl global water usage goal a year ahead of schedule, joining several other of our breweries worldwide that are also exceeding our global pace.

Build the Culture

It’s when employees feel personally invested in their company’s sustainability efforts that the full potential of plant-level innovations can be realized – and that the cooperation essential to keeping all facilities on track will occur. When employees truly care about contributing to their company’s environmental innovations, they think more creatively, work together more effectively, and, critically, share their thinking and their successes with colleagues in other facilities, regions and countries.

Generating this enthusiasm can seem like an undefined, elusive goal. Achieving it starts with incorporating sustainability into the fabric of a company in a way that’s genuine, consistent and supported at the highest levels of leadership. Adopting environmental sustainability as a true core corporate value will inject sustainability into every aspect of the way employees do business – and the rewards of this shift in thinking will compound over time.

WED serves as important moment for employees to come together, share successes and best practices, and partner with their communities to take their environmental efforts outside the brewery walls.

Combining clear company-level targets with a genuine culture of ownership and environmental responsibility, as well as employee-level accountability for progress can create fertile ground for seeding local resource management innovations. When their impact is combined, these low-tech fixes can dramatically increase a company’s resource efficiency without the need for expensive R&D investments or dramatic changes to supply infrastructure – and in the process can embed a genuine passion for sustainability in company culture.

Claudio Braz Ferro is Chief Supply Officer at Anheuser-Busch InBev. For information about AB InBev’s environmental commitments and targets, including water conservation, visit

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